“Our mission is to fill the human heart with compassion, mercy, and universal love, which should radiate to all countries, nations, and people of the world and to enable each one to love God, love all, serve all, and have respect for all, as God is imminent in all forms. The goal is that of oneness. This is the way to peace on earth.” -Sant Kirpal Singh Ji Maharaj
Jim Fortner is a funny, wise and generous man. I wish to thank him for sitting down with me for an illuminating chat one recent sunny morning. At 67 years young, Jim has a great smile and a quick laugh. When you meet him, you feel as if he has figured out some of the great mysteries in life.
Jim was born and raised in Indiana and joined the Air Force after high school where he spent four years at a base in Germany. After the service, he worked various jobs and began partying and doing the “hippie thing” that was quite common back then.
Jim recalls, “ I didn’t know it at the time, but I think I was trying to find God in alcohol and drugs back then. Back in 1971, I met a friend who seemed so confident and happy in his life. I envied him terribly and I remember that it was then I began to feel a deep sense of discontent and dissatisfaction with my life. This feeling settled deep into my chest. I remember feeling like I didn’t fit in. I was looking at life and could not seem to figure out just what made people get out of bed in the morning and go live their lives. I didn’t see any end to it. What was the greater purpose and meaning of it all?”
Jim began seeking answers to this question. He went to the library and began consuming spiritual books. He found himself leaning towards eastern mysticism. He engaged friends and strangers in spiritual conversations and eventually found himself in Champaign, Illinois with a group of people who were initiates of Sant Kirpal Singh ji Maharaj. His name translates to “merciful lion.”
For six months Jim immersed himself in the group and the teachings of the path, Surat Shabd Yoga, the Yoga of Inner Light and Sound and credits the teachings of his living master as the great blessing of his life. He transformed his diet to a vegetarian one and completely gave up alcohol and drugs. Studying under Master Kirpal had a life changing effect on Jim. He describes him: “Just seeing a photo or film clip, you could feel, see and know his connection to the divine. He was a powerful, conscious co-worker with God. To me, and his followers, he was the living embodiment of God. He was divorced from all religions and yet found the truth and love within all of them too.”
On August 13, 1973 Jim himself became initiated and says, “Thru this initiation, I had my inner ear and eye opened so that I could hear the audible life stream and see inner light. From that point on, I have meditated on that light and sound.”
From there, Jim set up a home in Indiana and lived close to the land- growing a big garden, tending goats and honey bees and learning to do things himself. He set up a woodshop and eventually became a successful contractor.
How did you come to live in Eau Claire Jim?
“Jane and I had met originally in 1972 back in Champaign. We would run into each other at gatherings but eventually I lost track of her. A number of years ago, I came to see that I had fallen away from this path. I had neglected my spiritual practices, tried to take control of my life and just became careless. I picked up one drink and went down a path of suffering again with alcohol for a number of years.
Around 2010, after years of ups and downs, I had a strong urge to connect with my friends from my time back in Champaign. I wrote Jane a letter and one thing led to another and now I am a permanent resident of Wisconsin and Jane is my wife! At this time in my life, to feel like I have a new life is really quite incredible!”
What does the word spirit mean to you Jim?
It is everything. There is nothing but spirit. We are in spirit and we are spirit. The only thing separating us from complete intimacy with that spirit is our mind and the veil of illusion or “Maya”. My goal in this lifetime is to sweep away that veil and see spirit head on in everything. Master Kirpal teaches that rocks and minerals are spirit asleep. In plants, sprit is dreaming. In animals, spirit is awakening. Only in humans is spirit fully awake.
Only in this form, can we find God. We have been given this rare gift and we need to make hay while the sun shines!
Jim, how do you approach lifting that veil?
Primarily thru meditation but also living an ethical life, earning my living by the sweat of my brow and engaging in selfless service. Also, I participate in “Satsang” which are gatherings of the faithful to be in the presence of the Master. My wife and I can sit in satsang together or we travel to larger gatherings in Naperville, Illinois or Minneapolis.
How does selfless service help you burn thru the illusion of Maya?
Well, it gets me out of my little self and my little ego and allows me to think about others. It helps me see God in others. I find joy in service. I go to the hospital and push wheelchairs around once a week. It is a blast! I am there for kind of a selfish reason, to make my meditations better. However, once I get there and meet many amazing people, it is just so much fun that I would continue to do it even if it made no difference to my meditations.
What do you mean when you talk about your “meditations improving”?
To keep the ego from being pumped up, I don’t talk about my inner experiences too much. In general, when I meditate, I experience light and sound and bliss and peace. I am pulled upward. When I incorporate service into my life, I seem to have a quieter mind that does not interfere as much with my concentration and focus. It is disappointing when I sit to meditate and my mind won’t slow down. I try and befriend my mind like my travelling companion. Some mornings I get up and meditate and it is holy-moly beautiful! I come out of there stunned but other mornings it is just chatter, chatter chatter!
I often meditate in the middle of the night. The sound seems to call to me like music. I don’t feel like getting out of bed but it is like “the pied piper of God” is calling me to get up and sit up. That early in the morning when all is quiet and the soul is not fully back in the body yet, the best mediations happen. During the day, I have a devil of a time staying awake but in those early morning hours, I can.
What advice can you give to someone who may be reading this and relate to that level of dissatisfaction you felt in the early 1970s?
Well, first off- stay in your respective religions but devote yourselves to them. If you are a Christian, be the best Christian you can be. If you are a Muslim, be the best Muslim you can be.
Next, give meditation a try. Try to sit in silence. Be still and know that “I am”. The mind puts up a constant chatter to block out that powerful “I am” presence. Part of our job on this earth is to block out that chatter and find stillness.
Finally, if your current path is not working for you, do not be afraid to seek a new path. There are many paths to truth. If you seek and continue to seek until you find a path that speaks to your heart, you will find a path for you.
I believe that humanity is moving towards an awakening. For too long, capitalism has run amok, money has been worshipped as God and people are unhappy and dissatisfied. Just look at Prozac sales figures in this country!
We are moving thru the illusion into the golden age of truth. Finding stillness thru meditation is an important first step towards awakening from the illusion. Relax into the knowledge that there is a solution to any feeling of loss or sadness. All of the answers can be accessed in the silence.
“The whole of this life’s purpose is to become still–to withdraw from outer environments and to concentrate. You have great strength in you; you are the child of a Lion” –Sant Kirpal Singh